Opinion » Maxed Out

There is no vacation like a snow vacation

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I knew it was too good to last. Knew the temps were too cold, the snow too plentiful, too light, too dry, too... perfect. It was a dream season. Great coverage, frequent freshening. I skied 7th Heaven weeks earlier than usual. One of my bases paid the price, naturally, but nothing a little p-tex wouldn't fix.

When Christmas came and went and most of January was a memory, I almost let myself think we might just get away without.... You know. That abominable weather thing named after that juicy, yellow Hawaiian fruit, the name of which I shall never write nor speak.

I even picked up the phone a few times to call my buddy in New Mexico to tell him it was safe for him to come skiing. But I didn't. His history in Whistler suggests he's a magnet for rain-to-the-top storms. I wasn't willing to risk it.

But here it is anyway. The Blob is dissipating and El Niño, the bastard child of Tlaloc, the Aztec god of rain, is left alone to turn powder to slush, hope to despair, fat skis to water skis.

Still, hope springs eternal and tomorrow brings a new weather forecast. Colder temperatures, copious dry snow, faceshots all around.

And you don't have to look very far to see optimism in the village. We're brimming with visitors overwhelmed with Tiny Town's beauty and the mountains' incredible — if momentarily soggy — skiing. At least one of the deadtree ski magazines that hasn't gone out of business ranked Whistler No. 1 again this year. The Canadian peso has made it a bargain for our 'Merican cousins. And as a result, restaurant reservations are once again both necessary and hard to get and retailers are either cleaning up or realizing they're selling the wrong stuff.

If you listen very closely though, you'll hear something else though. Canadian accents! Yes, finally, more and more of our brothers and sisters from sea to sea to sea are skiing at Whistler. Who can blame them? A one-day lift ticket at Vail is currently running $165 American dollars. That's, let's see... $235 Canadian! Sweet Jesus, who woulda ever thought WB was a bargain?

Yet, the problem still persists. Far too many Canadians operate under totally misplaced loyalties when it comes to winter vacations. The silly people go south. They go to some exotic beach. They lay indolently in the sun. They drink too much rum. They sunburn. And at the end of it all, they touch down at the Toronto airport, in the middle of a blizzard, wearing a flowered shirt and shorts because they would have felt silly packing an overcoat and galoshes to St. Somewhere.

C'mon, Canucks. Get with the program. What don't you understand about a ski vacation being better than a beach vacation? Let me point out a few salient facts to help you make the right decision this winter.

1. You don't need new clothes to go skiing. And you don't need to face the humiliation of shopping for beach attire in January. Picture yourself, fishbelly white, standing in front of a full-length mirror trying to decide whether to buy that bathing suit/bikini or just go home and commit suicide. Exactly. Notwithstanding Canada's long coastline and proud maritime tradition, we're not a beach country. Beachwear in Canada means slickers, Nor'westers and Billy Boots.

But you have skiwear hanging in your closet. Equipment can be rented, but we all own toques, gloves, long underwear and warm jackets and pants. A significant part of the population wears them year round.

2. You don't need to diet or go to the gym to get ready for a ski vacation. Once again, picture this: a warm beach, lapping waves, rustling palms... you standing in the middle of this scene... in a speedo/bikini. How long can you hold your stomach in?

Now picture yourself in Whistler wearing boots, and a ski suit. Better, eh? Oh sure, it would be nice to go to the gym before you try to ski for a week. But if you don't, it won't matter. When you ski, gravity's the engine; your body's just the brake.

3. Beach vacations are stressful. After lying in the sun for 15 minutes, you'll start thinking about work. To take your mind off work, you'll think about something else, the roll of fat cascading over the top of your bathing suit when you forget to suck in your stomach because you didn't go to the gym, for example. Or skin cancer. It's not your fault; beaches are like that. They invite introspection. They invite self-analysis. Beaches are bad therapy.

By contrast, when you ski, you can't think about anything else. Your whole being is focused on the line you've chosen, your next couple of turns, the mayhem about to take place if you don't dodge the careening snowboarder in front of you. In short: survival. And when you're not skiing, you're riding chairlifts, swapping lies with strangers, choosing your next run, buzzing with endorphins. You can hardly remember you have a job, let alone what it is.

4. Skiing's a physical high. It's better than a day at the gym. Every muscle in your body ripples with power. You're ready to après, mainline Advil, alcohol and the camaraderie of semi-naked strangers in hot tubs. You've burned thousands of calories and feel not a smidgen of guilt contemplating the coming evening's feast.

There is no après beach, unless of course you consider washing sand and salt out of every pore of your body a fitting end to the day. At the end of a beach day, you're wasted, drained. Lying in the sun doing nothing is exhausting, but it's a false exhaustion. In an average beach day, you burn about two calories, four if you mix your own drinks. You need all the rest you can get just to be ready to tackle the sun again tomorrow. Nachos for dinner begin to sound like too much work, all that chewing.

5. If you must vacation with children, there's simply no comparison. Drop them off in the morning, let someone else wear them out, pick 'em up at day's end. Exhausted. Ready for bed.

Or, take them to the beach. Don't forget the toys. And sunscreen. Keep an eye on them all the time, there may be sharks in the water. Figure out what to do when they get bored. And sunburnt. And cranky. Nice vacation, eh?

Finally, ski vacations are best even if the worst happens. Suppose you get hurt. It can happen. It won't but it can. At least you get priority boarding for the plane ride home.

Try that with a bad sunburn.

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